Saturday, June 25, 2011

Presentation Gurus: Richard Feynman

Last week I showed you an example of using photographs as visuals. Actually the last couple of posts have been heavy on my own examples. Let's change that by introducing a real guru on scientific presentations. Meet physicists Richard Feynman. Feynman was a great presenter who didn't live to meet the PowerPoint generation. I was able to find this on YouTube.  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Visual examples: using photos as visuals

In this post I give an example of how photos can be used in a presentation's visuals. I show one more example of image manipulation and how to use the power of analogy to produce beautiful visuals. 

I'm helping a friend creating a presentation stack for a talk about an exchange program between a university here in Germany and the Universidade de Sao Paulo in Brazil. Strictly speaking this is not a scientific presentation, but it will take place in a university context. The audience is made of potential students that would take part on the program exchange. After gathering the important facts, I went to Wikipedia and Fickr to pull some images. All the images have a creative commons license.  Here are some examples:

To start, Sao Paulo. I pulled this panorama of old downtown Sao Paulo from Wikipedia. The original is larger than the size of canvas. Instead of trying to scale it or crop it to make it fill in one slide, I animated it in Keynote by moving from right to left.

We worked on a top-down idea for the talk, so after talking about Sao Paulo,  I went ahead and pull this other picture of the University in Sao Paulo from Wikipedia. I kept the font the same: Helvetica -bold-48 in white. The text's color background is not random. I used the color picker tool in Keynote and chose a back gray. The photo and the slide don't have the same size. I filled the missing space felt by the photo by making the slide's background color black. This is more pleasant for the eye. I placed the text near to the building complex to direct the eye gaze. People will read to the text first, and then look at the building.

We moved to talk about one relevant fact about the school: How big is it? A school's size is an important criteria  for students,  to decide whether or not they want to go. I distilled the question to How many people are there? The number administrative staff is certainly important, but not for the target audience. What was relevant for them was the number of professors and students. I rounded the numbers. That's a little details that makes a big difference. If you can, do it.

I pulled the professor's photo from Fickr. It has the same height of  the slide but only half of the width. To make the slide more dynamic, I used I trick from Garr Reynolds: Blending the image from transparent to the slice's background. I did it using GIMP's Blend tool. The trick works pretty well in this case.

Did you notice that the woman is looking at the text? That's coincidence either. This is to help to direct the eye gaze to the text.

Now to the exchange program! The program offers a double title (Abschluss in german), one in Germany and one in Brazil. Therefore the analogy two graduations. I was aware this slide broke the style I had been using some far. I had to. I pulled this image from Fickr as well. I think is beautiful, and didn't find anything better, so I went for  more style. The slide's background color is the same as the photo's corners. The image came with the vignette. I added the reflection effect direct in Keynote.

An important piece of information is when can the students go on the exchange program. In this case it from the third year onward.

These are the two last slides. Again more information about the exchange. What you guess what information?  Students might get a scholarship for  traveling and room & board expenses. 

I think these three lasts slides are the best ones mainly for two reasons, the quality of the photos and their analogy. In every slide I have tried to apply Seth Godin's rule-of-thumb on keeping the number of words per slide below 6.

I hope these examples help you getting some ideas for the presentation's next visuals.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A word on visuals: Two photo tricks

Scientific presentations can profit  from cinematographic storytelling, specially from those effects that direct the eye gaze. In this post I present the vignetting and background blur effects. They are quick to prepare and yield great results. 
If you are including photographs in your presentation there are two classic tricks to help to direct the attention of the view to exactly what you what. The tricks are called vignetting and background blur. You might already know what I'm talking about. The tricks are used in movies like The Graduate (1967) and Citizen Kane.  To show the first effect I created an artificial image using Inkscape.

  • Original

  •  Vignette. According to Wikipedia vignetting is a reduction of an image's brightness or saturation at the periphery compared to the image center. Vignetting helps directing the viewer into your slide. You can create this effect using the GIMP of Photoshop. Basically you just make an oval selection around the object of interest. Invert the selection. Turn on the quick mask. Apply a Gaussian blur. Turn off the quick mask. Finally, slide the output level on the Levels menu  towards the left. If this was too fast google for vignette tutorial gimp or photoshop. 

  • Background blur. This effect goes by different names such as shallow focus, depth of field or background blur. Check out the example below. Although the picture already has the dancing girl as main element, the picture can be improved by making the girl pop out of the background by blurring it. This effect is even simpler to get in photoshop or GIMP than vignetting. First, select your object. Then inverse the selection and apply a Gaussian blur. 
Girl dancing. Image pulled from Flickr
Example of background blur

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Visual examples: remixing a math presentation

Designing math visuals is tough because of the level of abstraction. In this visual example I remix 5 slides of a math presentation.  I illustrate a way around the level of abstraction and show how to reduce to information per slide.

In the past couple of days I have been working on remixing some slides of a math presentation. It is a project I have been wanting to do for a long time, and I'm happy I finally did it! The original presentation is called A short course on: Preconditioned Krylov subspace methods by Yousef Saad. You can download the presentation here.  Don't let the title scare you! Understanding the content is not important in this case.  I encourage you to download the original slides and compare them with the remix below.

I've chosen this presentation for three reasons. First, it is a classic example of average visuals in scientific talks. Second, I know the topic, so I could be sure I knew how to remix it without making (hopefully) content mistakes. Third, the topic allows for very few diagrams or pictures.  Basically I reduced the information per slide, and went nuts on transitions and animations to lift the lack of diagrams and pictures. Because of the time it takes to correctly set up the transitions and animations, remixing the first five slides took two full days and resulted in 30 slides. I'm aware that people can't spend that much time preparing their presentation's visuals. You could get a good speed up by just dropping the transitions and animations.  I did it to give some design ideas. I hope you find them useful. The improvement is the reduction of the information per slide.  I'm very interested in your comments and suggestions. Click on the movie below to watch the presentation.
Update 7/10/2011. Please note that Mr. Saad has in no way endorsed, overseen or comment this remixing. In fact he might not even be aware of it.